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Back-to-back games aplenty in Sabreland

The NHL Awards Show is tonight, and Ryan Miller is favored to win the Vezina Trophy as best goaltender. It would be further proof he is the Buffalo Sabres' top player. The problem for the Sabres is their best player may have to spend more time off the ice next season.

The 2010-11 schedule was released Tuesday, and the Sabres play back-to-back games an astounding 22 times. Those 44 games comprise more than half their 82-game schedule. Though Miller is certain to play on consecutive nights more than a few times, the daily grind is sure to necessitate more days off than the 13 he took last season.

The schedule will put more pressure on the Sabres to find a dependable backup. Patrick Lalime filled the role the past two seasons, and he is in consideration to resume the position along with free agent Martin Biron and prospect Jhonas Enroth, among others.

The Sabres start their back-to-back runs on the opening two nights of the season. They visit the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 8 then host the New York Rangers in the home opener Oct. 9.

The Saturday night game against the Rangers is the first of 22 games played on Saturdays, the most of any day. The Sabres play 15 games on Tuesdays and Fridays, 10 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, seven on Sundays and three on Mondays.

HSBC Arena will be at its busiest on Friday nights, with 11 home games. The Sabres also entertain the locals during nine Saturdays, seven Wednesdays, five Tuesdays, four Sundays, three Thursdays and two Mondays.

The longest homestand is a six-game stretch Feb. 16-26. Not surprisingly, it's followed by the longest road trip, a seven-game journey beginning March 1 against the Rangers and ending March 12 in Toronto.

The Sabres' great desire to host a game during the world junior championships (Dec. 25-Jan. 5) could create serious jet lag. They fly to western Canada for games against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 27-28, return home to host Boston at 5 p.m. New Year's Day, then immediately head back out west for games in Colorado on Jan. 4, San Jose on Jan. 6 and Phoenix on Jan. 8.

One schedule highlight features a Buffalo weekend in Toronto. The Sabres visit the Maple Leafs on Nov. 6 in the Hall of Fame Game, and the Bills' annual game in The True North is the following day, as they host the Chicago Bears on Nov. 7 in Rogers Centre.

The locals will get to toast Patrick Kane, Brian Campbell and the rest of the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks during the third game of the season on Oct. 11.

The games are part of a mad rush to the Sabres' season. They play their first six games in just nine days, including four of the first five at home. The final home game is April 8 against Philadelphia, and the schedule ends April 9 in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.

The Sabres, in a rare move, spent last Thanksgiving on the road. They resume their holiday home games this season, sandwiching Thanksgiving with a game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Nov. 24 and Toronto on Friday, Nov. 26.

Buffalo heads into the Christmas recess with home games against the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 21 and the Florida Panthers on Dec. 23.

The Sabres play eight games during the day this season (including five at home): Jan. 1 against Boston (5 p.m.); Jan. 23 at the New York Islanders (3 p.m.); Feb. 13 against the Isles (3 p.m.); Feb. 20 against the Washington Capitals (3 p.m.); March 5 at Philadelphia (1 p.m.); March 13 against Ottawa (5 p.m.); March 20 against Nashville (5 p.m.); and April 3 at Carolina (5 p.m.).

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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